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Jambo (April 17, 1961 – September 11, 1992) was a gorilla housed at Durrell Wildlife Park in Jersey, Channel Islands. He was involved in an incident in which he was seen to be protective of a child who fell into his enclosure.
"Jambo!" means "hello" in Swahili. The gorilla was born on April 17, 1961, in Zoo Basel, Basel, Switzerland, to mother Achilla and father Stephi. Stephi was acquired from the Columbus Zoo in Ohio. Stephi was captured in 1950 by Columbus resident and gorilla hunter Bill Said, with two other baby gorillas, in French Equatorial Africa. The three were sold to the Columbus Zoo for $10,000. The two which the Columbus Zoo kept, Baron Macombo and Millie Christina, became the parents of Colo, the first gorilla born in a zoo, in Columbus on December 22, 1956. She was the first gorilla born in captivity as well as the first gorilla in captivity to be raised by her own mother.
Jambo's older sister Goma, born on September 23, 1959 in Basel, was the first gorilla born in Europe and lived in the Zoo Basel until her death in 2018. Before Jambo was transferred to Jersey Zoo, Jambo and Goma had a son named Tamtam, who was born at Zoo Basel on May 2, 1971, and died at Wuppertal Zoo on July 23, 2009. Jambo also fathered a daughter while still at Zoo Basel by an unrelated female. Jambo had 7 siblings and 20 offspring by 5 different mates, including three stillbirths.
Jambo was moved to Jersey Zoo on April 27, 1972.
Rescue of Levan Merritt
Jambo rose to international news stardom on August 31, 1986, when five-year-old Levan Merritt fell into the gorilla enclosure and lost consciousness. Jambo stood guard over the boy when he was unconscious, placing himself between the boy and other gorillas in what ethologists analyze as a protective gesture. He later stroked the unconscious boy's back. When the boy regained consciousness and started to cry, Jambo and the other gorillas retreated in panic, and the silverback led them into the little house. A paramedic and two keepers rescued the boy. Most of the drama was recorded on home video, and extensively photographed by zoo visitors. The publicity on major news channels and newspapers helped ease public fears about the potentially violent nature of gorillas.
Death and legacy
Jambo was found dead by his keeper Richard Johnstone-Scott in the gorilla enclosure on September 16, 1992. The cause of death was a spontaneous rupture of the major artery, resulting in a massive hemorrhage in his chest. A biography of Jambo, written and illustrated by his keeper, was published following his death. A documentary has also been released primarily based on the home video footage of the Levan Merritt incident.
Jersey Zoo has erected a bronze statue of Jambo inside the zoo grounds as a tribute to the gorilla who helped change public perception about the species.
- Jambo: A Gorilla's Story, Richard Johnstone-Scott, Michael O'Mara Books (1995) ISBN 1-85479-701-8
- Jambo - The Gentle Giant, Green Umbrella, 2005
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